For two years, Alexandre Pato barely played two games in a row. He suffered more than a dozen muscle-related injuries with AC Milan between 2010 and 2012, and he was turning into a mysterious medical case study. The club doctor did not know where to go next. Pato had flown from Germany to the United States for treatment, like a leper in search of a cure.
Pato trained on his own, as if in quarantine, and he missed 15 or 20 games at a time.
There were hints at reasons why all of these injuries were happening. Pato had a growth spurt during those years, and he gained weight, according to Goal.com. He grew eight centimetres and added nine kilograms to his frame.
Essentially, Pato put on too much muscle in too little time. Or so the doctors said.
In the years since moving back to Brazil, the 25-year-old has not once but twice blamed Milan for mishandling him. Pato said in an interview with SporTV last year (h/t ESPNFC) that the team rushed him back into action. “The treatment was different there,” he said. “They do a lot of physical exercise, in the swimming pool, physiotherapy—you end up doing 20 days of work in just one week, and it’s only normal that the body can’t cope.”
Brazil’s national team medic agreed. It was not some incurable disease that Pato had contracted. “I have seen other cases like Pato’s,” said Jose Luis Runco (h/t ESPNFC). “With the right course of action and if the player collaborates with medics, I usually don't see any big problems.”
Milan sold Pato to Corinthians for €15 million in January of 2013, and since then he has not suffered so many injuries. He was loaned out to Sao Paulo, where he has scored seven goals in his past eight matches. He is finally enjoying his football again.
On Wednesday, Pato again took the opportunity to try to set the story straight. In an interview with the newspaper Estadao (h/t Football Italia), the Brazilian striker repeated that the problem was not him. “When I started to get injured,” he said, “I travelled everywhere and did what I had to do, but the period of transition to the field was not done well, the work I did here in Brazil could have been done there.”
Former Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri tried to defend his staff, but under Allegri there was already an alarming number of injuries happening, too. Allegri himself pushed players when they were not 100 percent fit.
Stephan El Shaarawy started to suffer similar problems. He is young too, and he replaced Pato as the player with all the potential on the Milan squad.
So Pato returned to Brazil to find a way to stay healthy. And he did. The first year back, Pato did not get injured.
He suffered other problems. Fans of his former club, Corinthians, threatened to break his legs, according to the newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo (h/t sambafoot.com). About 100 of them stormed the training facility, and several players had to flee.
Pato himself has missed penalties and easy goals, and he was not called up for the World Cup. Instead, a journeyman like Jo made the team.
Pato also seemed to lack the verve to be a top player again. For so many years, he went partying. He was married for nine months and then divorced. He dated Miss Brazil and Barbara Berlusconi, the daughter of Milan president Silvio. His own fans booed him.
His relationship with Barbara was particularly troubling. Some in the Milan dressing room felt uncomfortable with the whole situation, according to Corriere della Sera (h/t ESPN). “Pato suddenly became a member of Milan’s high society,” Italian football writer Massimo Franchi told the Daily Mail. The problems were physical and psychological.
Still, Pato scored 63 goals in 150 games for Milan, and that is a reminder of the good that he did. He scored in his first game against Napoli in 2007. He dashed past Sergio Busquets and made fools of Barcelona in a 2-2 draw in 2012. Pep Guardiola famously said (per The Score), “Not even Usain Bolt could have stopped him.”
There were flashes of brilliance, just like Pato on the field. "If we expect something more from Pato,” said former Milan general Gennaro Gattuso (h/t ESPN), “it's because he's capable of that something more than other players.”
Now another former teammate is playing with Pato in Sao Paulo. “Encouragement, fellowship, Kaká is always talking to him,” Sao Paulo’s Josef de Souza Dias told Goal.com (h/t sambafoot.com). Pato is now playing a good sequence of games, and the 32-year-old Kaka is right there with him, creating plays and goals.
Pato finally has some support, something that was missing in those final days with Milan.